Following a tradition which began in the 1980s, the Malaysian Students Association at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) hosted its biggest annual cultural event in February. The event attracted 400 participants to learn about the Southeast Asian country’s culture, including food and traditional performances.
The theme of this year’s event — “Satu Malaysia” or “One Malaysia” — recalls the ongoing program, initiated by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, to promote the idea of unity in diversity. Similar to the United States, Malaysia is known for its ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity. Bumiputras, Chinese, and Indians are the largest ethnic groups in Malaysia. In the spirit of embracing diversity, UNL students performed a trio rap about unity in four different languages spoken in Malaysia: Mandarin, Tamil, Bahasa, and English. The success of the event inspired student groups in Kansas who visited and attended to plan a similar collaborative Malaysian event.
Students from Malaysia contributed $268 million to the US economy in 2016. In Nebraska, UNL was the institution with the highest number of foreign students. Three of the five leading countries of origin for foreign students in the state are in Asia: China, India, and Malaysia. Malaysians made up the largest foreign population at UNL as of 2015, after Chinese students.
Educational exchanges not only enrich cultural understanding between the US and other countries, but also garner considerable economic benefits. Spending on higher education accounts for 50% of the direct jobs created by international students in Nebraska. International students contribute economic benefits that were worth a total of $148.4 million and 1,503 total jobs in the state in 2015-2016 academic year.
Anh Pham is a Research Intern at the East West Center in Washington, DC and Master's Candidate in International Affairs at the School of International Service, American University.